Want to know how far we've come in Internet branding? Consider this story from Wired Magazine, circa 1994.
I may be dating myself, but this article is what convinced me of the importance of online branding. It defined everything I thought about marketing for the next decade and half. I wish it had also convinced me to snap up some domain names, but it certainly got me in hot water with superiors for pushing ideas that they later stole and used for their own gain 3 years down the line.
But I digress.
This article by Josh Quittner chronicles his attempts to contact someone — anyone — at McDonald's corporate who may have heard of the Internet. He tells them point blank that their domain is in jeopardy and that even a competitor could register it. From the beginning of the article:
I'm waiting for a call back from McDonald's, the hamburger people. They're trying to find me someone - anyone - within corporate headquarters who knows what the Internet is and can tell me why there are no Golden Arches on the information highway.
It's true: there is no mcdonalds.com on the Internet. No burger_king.com either.
"Are you finding that the Internet is a big thing?" asked Jane Hulbert, a helpful McDonald's media-relations person, with whom I spoke a short while ago.
Yes, I told her. In some quarters, the Internet is a very big thing.
I explained a little bit about what the Big Thing is, and how it works, and about the Net Name Gold Rush that's going on. I told her how important domain names are on the Internet ("Kind of like a phone number. It's where you get your e-mail. It's part of your address."), and I explained that savvy business folks are racing out and registering any domain name they can think of: their own company names, obviously, and generic names like drugs.com and sex.com, and
silly names that might have some kind of speculative value one day, like roadkill.com.
"Some companies," I told Jane Hulbert, "are even registering the names of their competitors."
"You're kidding," she said.
I am not, I told her...
Yet instead of registering it, they let it go. So he registered it. I believe the expletive I remember from the piece have been edited out since the original publication, but I distinctly remember the line of jubilation: "I'm am now Ronald @ F***ing McDonalds.com!"
He even ends the pieces with a call for comments about what he should do with his new prize:
Got a suggestion? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
A classic Wired piece, to be sure. But it's also a great warning. The next big thing is always with us. You just can't see it yet. So if you get a crazy call from an oddball journalist, please pay attention.